(noun): a category of taste in food (besides sweet, sour, salt, and bitter), corresponding to the flavor of glutamates, especially monosodium glutamate.
ORIGIN Japanese, literally ‘deliciousness.’
(New Oxford American Dictionary)
The discovery and exploration of the now 5th official taste sensation, Umami, was sure to follow with a restaurant and food trend explosion, as anything this earth shattering in the food world would.
Exhibit A: Umami Burger.
Within the last few years the craze of Umami Burger has expanded over the areas of California, New York, Las Vegas, and has made it’s way to Chicago with 2 locations in Wicker Park and the West Loop. We all know that with major food trends come MAJOR lines. Before you wait in that few hour line, maybe sit this one out before buying into the hype of it all…
We started off the meal with the tempura battered onion rings (why would you start your meal any other way?) that were served with an array of dipping sauces. To be frank, I had low expectations for the onion rings because in my opinion it is hard to come across a GOOD onion ring, but these did the job! They were giant, thickly battered, and as crispy as can be. A good onion ring was a very good start to the meal.
The sauces served alongside were a garlic aioli, a jalapeno ranch, a spicy Diablo sauce, and the in house Umami ketchup. Everything was great; the aioli was luscious, the ranch was tangy, and the Diablo burnt off my nose hairs, but we ran into some trouble with the Umami ketchup…
I understand the concept of Umami… it’s supposed to be this salty and meat-like savory taste, but this combination of flavors did not sit right with ketchup. I would dip my onion ring and expect that classic, sweet tang, but their Umami Ketchup was essentially ketchup mixed with soy sauce and other savory components. I really gave it a good shot and tried it multiple times though sadly, it only left my taste buds feeling dissatisfied and confused.
I kept my hopes up as we moved onto the burgers.
The fun thing about Umami burger is that you don’t have to follow the menu at all. You can mix and match to create your perfect burger from the endless options. I ordered the falafel patty onto the Sunny Side burger,which was loaded up with a Parmesan frico, a fried egg, truffle thyme compound butter, truffled arugula, and truffled aioli. Clearly lots of truffle, but that’s not always a bad thing. This burger was the best part about my meal, from the crisp of the parm, the peppery arugula, a gooey egg yolk, and of course the damn truffle. It was all pretty satisfying!
My boyfriend who’s also truffle obsessed, ordered the (you guessed it), truffle burger stacked with truffled aioli, house truffle cheese, and a truffle glaze. This was also very good, even if it was heavy on the truffle. And because we hadn’t had enough truffle already, we each got a side of truffle fries, which were somewhat disappointing. The truffle flavor was prominent, but masked by the heaviness of the cheese fondue, which completely took over the thin cut fries. The fries became soggy, droopy, and un-enjoyable while they drowned in the cheese sauce.
All in all, it wasn’t a bad dining experience. Would I wait 2 hours for it? No, but I would go back and try different items. Umami Burger was a cool, hip, and laid back dining event that I think everyone should try out for themselves, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t buy into the hype.